Try to remember the first time you heard a poem. If you could unearth the past, it’s likely you first heard poetry as an infant. Brief playful words probably appeared in your childhood, relics of communications laced with love. Perhaps your grandmother or your father, or some other someone who loved you dearly, sang a lullaby over you at naptime or recited lyrical prose as you played in the park. Poetry in childhood echoes the wonders found in every nook and cranny.


Infused with imagination, poems invite presence as they name senses and emotions in brief thoughts, though this brevity does not equal shallow meaninglessness. Poets create as ways to explore the world swirling around and within us.


As children, we investigate the world through taste, touch, and tales told. Listen in on the play of words in a group of children and you’ll hear the sing-song fun of rhymes and silliness. Questions and opinions dance in the conversations. Stories emerge and so do poems.


Poetry differs from story. Poems may be more concise, and exact. They present themselves as more metaphorical and unconventional in their linkage between words, images, and realities. That, of course, does not mean they do not tell a story; poems certainly do. Poems are miniature microcosms. Here the climate and geography of words map life differently: few become more, and what seems small becomes profoundly deep.


Poetry offers a snapshot, not a movie; a postcard, not a letter. Poets seem to think in metaphor and simile, seeing the unlikely in the ordinary. Within the story of a poem, one works out solutions that are truly metaphoric of one’s own life. In all of art, this is true. There is more than we first see. Reading poetry, then, becomes an exercise in rethinking perspectives.


Like reading Scripture, poetry can read us, just as we read it. We read, think, speak, then respond. We arrive at the side of poetry surprised. From poetry’s vantage point, we see anew: the extraordinary hidden within the common. In poetry, new connections in old familiar places occur, or as Jesus taught, we let go of old wineskins as we make space for new ones.


What Poetry Does for Us

Poetry invites the slow to come. Poems offer no precise handbook of how to resolve issues at hand. Rather, in the geography of words within the poems, we work out our own story, observing and experimenting as we journey through valleys and victories, quicksand and quintessential moments.


Poetry, echoing the ways Scripture can form us, can change us for the better. It lends a hand when a hand is most needed. Once upon a time, for the better part of a seventeen-month stretch of caregiving for then-aging parents, two poems carried me along in those befuddling unexpected days. Each morning’s recitations included Psalm 90 and Emily Dickinson’s poem #135:

Water is taught by thirst.

Land—by the Oceans passed.

Transport—by throe—

Peace—by it’s battles told—

Love, by Memorial Mold—

Birds, by the Snow.


True words from the Word and succinct words from Emily Dickinson hovered over my days. Accompanying the pragmatic poetry of caring for the aging, the nearby ocean’s literal salted poetry of tides ebbed and flowed. Canopied by God’s colorful prose of sunrise and sunset, poems carried me during a tender season of the heart. Poetry, like pain, brought sharpened focus, swiftly carving away all nonessentials.


Poetry possesses the power to bring us into the present moment as well as return us to a long-ago memory. With the gathering of a few words, poems center us in the moment at hand, capturing emotions that swirl. We sort through the words like miners searching for treasures. We find places within ourselves that we could not easily identify or express until we stumbled upon the poet’s perspective.


Poetry, prose, and story writing are but one branch of artistry, creativity, imagination, and play. Made in the image of a creative God, we imitate, we imagine, and we call forth the new. The artistry of the poet and the writer lend themselves to exploration of who we are. In the writing process of creating poems, we, the authors, use the realm of words to begin working out who we are.


National Poetry Month

Here in April—when Earth itself here in the northern hemisphere is a poem of hope blooming if there ever was one—National Poetry Month extends an invitation to explore the way poems bring our playful imaginations, once so fruitful in our youth, into a restored sense of being more fully alert and alive. Since 1996, the Academy of American Poets festivities around poems offer a place to celebrate, aimed at pondering the wonder of words in the form of poetry.


So often we rush past the wonders at hand. We walk among miracles yet hurry on to the next thing, for we are forever behind and full of busyness, aren’t we? Yet poetry invites a turning aside like Moses at the bush burning bright in his line of sight. It’s one of the things I love about reading poetry. It causes me to slow down, to ponder what is astounding in the moments all around me.


My National Poetry Month Practice

Reading poetry in April leads to writing poetry. Each April I gather a bit of risk, attentiveness, and wonder, then wrestle words, so I might poise a few poems on the page. To find the way forward again on the path of poetry, I tuck volumes of poetry into woven baskets, dust off the outdoor chairs, and settle in. As I turn page after page beneath the warming sky, I encounter mystery, delight, and more wonder in these field guides of the imagination.


I run through old childhood favorites like Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Swing,” recalling moments of playful delight. Wordsworth’s daffodils come to mind, as I recite “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” memorized somewhere in the 1950s and 1960s, during elementary school days.


Silly poems from my childhood, passed on to my children and grandchildren, bubble up. I laugh out loud at familiar poems about purple cows, Peter Piper, and pelicans’ beaks. These meander through my brain as do snippets of Shakespeare and the lilt of lyrical Psalms from the lovely words from the old King James Bible. I read widely: contemporary and ancient, tightly structured and ever so free-flowing. I may pick up a new volume of poetry or return to a how-to guide for creating poems. In the mode of noticing poetry, I then scribble out a line or two of poetry most days in April. Commemorating National Poetry Month sharpens my rusty poem-writing skills. Along the way, I name senses I easily overlook, take note of emotions buried just beneath the surface, and find fresh delight in my imagination’s playfulness and diligence.


Every single day holds a story or two worth remembering, yet there are simply not enough hours in any day to craft a novel or short story for that day. Dipping my pen in the creative ink of poetry, I capture moments to remember, letting postcard moments of poetry tell today’s tale to be reread again a day into the future. Poetry writing feels awkward and unwieldy. Yet at the same time, it invigorates, rearranging the way I see the world unfolding here in the time of Spring.


Where to Begin?

You don’t have to be a writer to write poems, yet if you are a writer, writing poems may shape your more familiar genres into new dimensions. Not sure how to get going? Find a copy of How to Write a Poem by Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander, Deanna Nikaido, and Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet. The words and art inspire!


Of course, it’s easy enough to discover how to create myriad types of poems in books and websites available almost everywhere. Which of these poem types have you tried before? Which will you venture into writing here in National Poetry Month?

    • Acrostic
    • Alphabet
    • Cento
    • Cinquain
    • Concrete Poems
    • Ekphrasis
    • Elegy
    • Found
    • Free Verse
    • Ghazal
    • Haiku
    • Limerick
    • List
    • Pantoum
    • Prose
    • Sestina
    • Sonnet
    • Tanka
    • Tercet
    • Triptych
    • Villanelle


If you find yourself reading this in May or October, you don’t need to wait until April’s National Poetry Month reappears. Strengthen your literary muscles by reading a poem today. Maybe tomorrow you’ll try scratching one out on the page. Tuck one in an envelope to a friend. Recite one to yourself as you walk on the sidewalk on your way to work, the park, or the gym. Read one aloud to a neighbor. Let the mirror of poetry reflect new thoughts to your heart and mind. Discover afresh the ways of the world around you and within you as you read and write poetry, turning aside to notice the splendor in the ordinary.


For further exploration into poetry, I invite you to read some of the poems I have written:


 For further exploration into imagination and writing, check out these blogs:



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